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Republicans Pressuring White House To Change Course On Steel, Aluminum Tariffs


President Trump says he is not backing down from a trade fight. That is despite pressure from members of his own party. Republican lawmakers are urging him not to go through with his plans to impose stiff tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. Today Trump said he does not believe there will be a trade war. Although, just a few days ago, he was arguing that trade wars were, quote, "good and easy to win." NPR's Scott Horsley joins me now from the White House. Hey, Scott.


KELLY: So a lot of pushback on Capitol Hill against these proposed tariffs. What are the main objections?

HORSLEY: House Speaker Paul Ryan's office put out a statement this morning saying he's extremely worried that the planned tariffs could spark retaliation and a trade war. Ryan's spokeswoman said the GOP tax cuts have begun giving the economy a boost, and they don't want to jeopardize that now by having other countries crack down on U.S. exports. If that were to happen, cheese and motorcycles from Ryan's home state of Wisconsin could be the targets.

KELLY: Yeah.

HORSLEY: It's not just GOP lawmakers that are trying to stop the president either. Trump has also been hearing from allies like British Prime Minister Theresa May, who expressed her deep concerns in a phone call over the weekend. Trading partners throughout Europe and North America have warned if Trump goes through with these tariffs, they'll fight back with restrictions of their own on U.S. exports.

KELLY: All right, so we're hearing objections from Europe, from Canada, from Republican lawmakers. Is there any sign yet, Scott, that this is impacting the president's plans, that the White House is listening?

HORSLEY: No outward sign of that. White House aides say no one should be surprised that Trump is pushing these tariffs. He's been advocating tariffs like this for years. This is a president who campaigned on a protectionist platform. And if that platform happens to be at odds with GOP orthodoxy, you know, Trump doesn't - is not bothered by that. He was asked about this during an Oval Office photo op today. And the president sounded defiant.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: People have to understand our country on trade has been ripped off by virtually every country in the world, whether it's friend or enemy - everybody.

HORSLEY: Hear how he's painting with a broad brush there. You know, the administration has said repeatedly the problem in steel and aluminum is overproduction by China. But these tariffs would be much more sweeping, hitting every country that supplies metals to the United States, including Canada and Mexico. The president made no bones about that. He suggested that he could even use the steel and aluminum tariffs as a cudgel to win more favorable terms in NAFTA negotiations, which are currently underway.

KELLY: From a practical point of view, Scott, what's the timing - because when the president announced these tariffs last week, there wasn't actually a formal order ready for him to sign. Is that right?

HORSLEY: Right, and that's what's given opponents a glimmer of hope. Trump's announcement not only caught markets off guard last week. It appeared to catch people inside the White House off guard. And that's created a window here while the tariff order is being drawn up for opponents to make their case. Now, will it matter? I spoke this morning with Peter Navarro, a White House economist who supports the tariffs. He tried to pour cold water on the notion that there's sort of a tug of war underway in the White House. Navarro says all these arguments have been hashed out already, and the president is not changing his mind.

PETER NAVARRO: At the end of the day, he's the guy that got elected to make the tough choices. And he made a courageous choice here because he knows he's going to get pushback from the swamp. And the swamp is formidable, but the president's more formidable.

KELLY: All right, that's the economist Peter Navarro speaking today with NPR's Scott Horsley. Thanks, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.